We have a small, entirely off-topic series of articles about PC workspace and gaming space ergonomics accessibility.
This article is among this tiny lot. Might have been the first one, I think.
They prolly don’t emerge much on search engines (the writeups.org domain isn’t authoritative on this subject) but heh, if it ends up helping even one person…
To us older people, the Tartarus is the modern equivalent of the Belkin Nostromo. It is a one-handed PC mini-keyboard plus a number of under-the-thumb buttons, and it can be extensively programmed.
It is primarily intended for video games where one presses many different buttons as well as using a mouse. Programmable keys are also the bee’s knees in coding and some other tasks, but a keyboard with macro keys is prolly a better choice for these.
The main alternative to the Tartarus was the “MMO mice”. These are big mice with an array of buttons under the thumb. Though I suppose you can use both in games where you need to press a gazillion buttons PDQ.
This article is a short review of the Tartarus device, with a concrete example of use. So you can see it an action, so to speak.
I’m also the sort of person who extensively researches what sort of gear they buy. If you’re not like that, you’ll benefit from listening to people like me. 😺
I’ve got health issues with nerve damage and stuff, so I often can’t quite feel/locate my hands. Therefore, the ability to keep my fingers on buttons with very little movement is a genuine asset.
Partially automating button-mashing also helps compensate.
Furthermore I once broke a keyboard by pressing too hard on the “attack without moving” key. Having another, tough device to take that punishment is a plus. Especially if I program the “attack without moving” key to be under the pinky, which is less likely to break stuff.
But it can be used in more common situations. Such as :
- People who simply have poor dexterity and coordination.
- People without programmable keyboards.
- People who need every little advantage they can get (in competitive games, I’d imagine).
- People with carpal tunnel pains, or joint issues (e.g., arthritis).
- People with small desks.
Obviously, any game that uses action bars (such as World of Warcraft) and has decent keybinding options can use a similar setup.
Since folks occasionally ask, the input devices I use :
- Logitech G710+ keyboard keyboard. A fairly high-end keyboard with programmable keys (6 keys * 3 memory sets), mechanical Cherry Brown keys, and media controls. This is a good choice if you type a lot and quickly, don’t mind the noise from the clicky-clacky keys, and have recurrent strings of code you keep entering (using the macro keys). And like to adjust sound volume using a big roller.
- As of 2019, I replaced it with a revised Corsair K95 keyboard in Cherry brown. It’s essentially the same thing, but even more expensive and even more high-end. I can’t recommend a $150-ish keyboard for most uses. But if you do an awful lot of typing *and* don’t mind typing noise *and* need six macro keys *and* need media controls *and* want excellent hardware quality, then it’s currently the best choice IME.
- Mionix NAOS 7000 mouse. A high-end, robust, no-frills mouse. It is unusually broad so I’m not dragging half my hand on the mouse mat all day long, and I’d recommend a NAOS for right-handed folks with larger hands. Mionix does excellent hardware, but they do not have extensive marketing #brand #topofmind presence.
- As of 2022 I replaced it with :
- A Logitech MX vertical mouse. It clearly helps with wrist pain if used with a proper wrist rest (below), and it even can do some gaming. Good gear if you spend many hours a day pushing a mouse around. But a/it’s expensive, b/ it’s not appropriate for precise moves (e.g. graphic work or precision aiming in gaming) and c/ your palm and fingers are resting on the mouse all the time, which can be an issue if your hands sweat.
- A Mountain Makalu 67 mouse. A gaming mouse that’s at once light and fairly big. I keep it covered when not in use, to avoid dust getting inside. Excellent quality so far.
- A $10 Steelseries cloth mouse mat and a $10 Fellowes Crystals wrist rest. These are elevated compared to the keyboard (an old XIII hardback graphic novel stacked atop my Blood of Heroes and DC Adventures rules book) so my hand falls on the mouse naturally, without joints strain. Between having determined the proper elevation, and the wrist rest, I’ve ended my carpal pain issues.
The Razer Tartarus
Here we are discussing the Razer Tartarus v2 Chroma. It is an evolution over the V1, though the V1 had mechanical keys some might prefer.
Its first, readily visible characteristic is that it’s too expensive. It’s about $80 as of this writing.
Still, it’s worth it to me to avoid irritating fumbling – and pain issues. I’d imagine part of the price is because it’s built in small quantities, being such a niche product.
There are 19 keys on the mini-keyboard. In the thumb area you’ve got :
- A wheel (like a mouse scrolling wheel).
- A four directional thumb-pad (up/down/left/right).
- A stand-alone thumb button.
- And a big pedal-shaped key.
There’s also a cushion and palm rest, both of sufficient quality (though I’ve seen complains about the glue holding the cushion).
Hardware quality seems decent, which is good given that previous keyboard-ruining misadventure of mine. It’s an USB peripheral. I think it supports several user profiles, but I haven’t used that yet.
It is clearly intended to be used with the left hand whilst the right handles the mouse.
The 20 keys (the 19 main ones and the “thumb pedal”) have RGB lighting functions. I’m not a fan of RGB gamer crap, but here it is genuinely useful.
The core use is to light the keys in different colours. So for instance I’ve rigged the #9 key to be violetish-blue, and the #10 key to be magenta, whereas the #17 and #18 keys slowly cycle from yellow to red.
This makes it much easier to remember what does what. For instance if you haven’t played in a while, have been playing different games, are alternating between characters with different control schemes, etc..
The software to set up the lighting is a smidgen abstruse. But after a few minutes of cursing I could do the basics I needed.
There’s also significant light bleed between the keys so it looks prettier. But looking closely will make it clear which key is glowing by itself, and which key is lit by its neighbour(s).
A practical example, using Grim Dawn
This example should be comprehensible by anyone, even without Grim Dawn familiarity.
Here’s how my pad looks, with the curtains drawn so daylight doesn’t wash out the colours on the photograph. #17 and #18 cycle between yellow and red-orange.
This is an addition to the mouse. Though on said mouse I only use left click, right click, and a thumb button for rarely-used “oops” abilities.
Key maps – non-macro
The #20 “thumb pedal” is mapped to ability #10, which is the health potion on all of my characters’ action bar. So this emergency key is the same for all chars, and slamming the thumb down is intuitive enough as an emergency button.
Grim Dawn also has a bindable health pot key, but having the pot on the action bar allows for seeing its cooldown timer.
Key #11 is the “attack without moving” one for ranged attack characters, placed under the pinky to avoid excessive pressure. It is pink so it stands out, and because “pinky”, see ?
Keys #8, #9, #10 are the utility keys. Yellow means “map”, blue-violet means “switch” (in this case, switching weapons). I have to move up my fingers to press these, but weapon switches aren’t frequent, and recurrent map access is usually done outside of combat. Being able to bring up and down the map with just a fingertip move is nice for some hard-to-navigate, low-visibility areas.
#10 is the “loot a nearby thing” key (assigned from the keybinding options in Grim Dawn). This is used when there’s a lot of loot, so I don’t have to go click-click-click with my bad hands. The magenta colour is reminiscent of the pink of key #11, since these are things you do without moving.
#12-15 and the under-the-thumb mushroom button are the main action keys. Except for the thumb mushroom, they’re lit in green. I simply mapped them to the 1-5 keys on the keyboard. #15 is seldom used since I’d need to move my fingers too much – the thumb mushroom is easier to use.
So at this point I have seven in-combat actions without moving me fingers and losing track. Left mouse, right mouse, #12 green, #13 green, #14 green, thumb mushroom, thumb pedal. That goes to nine (#15 and mouse button 4) with “oh crap” abilities that aren’t routinely used. Plus the attack-without-moving key for ranged attackers, and an easily-found map.
Obviously, I avoid character builds with a full action bar. That’s too many buttons for me damaged hands to handle. But with the Tartarus I’ve given it a shot.
I mapped the additional slots on the action bar to the thumb joystick as up, down, left, right. I was sceptical, but it works out okay for a pets-summoning character. As with most summoners, she needs action bar buttons to resummon slain pets.
Having all her lil’ friends on the thumb pad (skeletons are “up”, crow is “down”, blight monster is “right”, hellhound is “left”) allows for fairly smooth resummons. I do occasionally mess up and resummon the wrong one, but the character isn’t mana-constrained so it doesn’t manner.
It’s a slightly-under-top-tier build, so keeping her alive in bad circumstances requires more button-mashing than I anticipated when I levelled her up. And mashing multiple buttons with different cooldowns isn’t my strong suit. Let’s just say I’ll never be a drummer.
So I programmed macros on #17 and #18. These have a different colour and a discreet animation to mark their status as more “active” keys.
#17 is the head-bashing key. It presses 1 for 0.3 seconds, waits for 0.3s, presses 2 for 0.3s… In practice, pressing #17 means that within 0.9 seconds I’ll deliver a Primal Strike (big attack with a 3 seconds cooldown), then a Chain Lightning attack (smaller attack, no cooldown), then press “pet attack” so this character’s pet focuses on the current target.
Thus, this is manually pressed every three seconds in a brawl, the advantage being that I also get a minor chain lightning attack and avoids my pet wandering away to pick daisies.
#18 is the saying-hello key. Using similar 0.3 seconds delays it drops a Wendigo totem, then a Wendigo-enhanced thorny vines ground effect, then summons a short-lived pet, then issues a “pet attack” command.
This is a sequence I’m going to do whenever I engage a significant enemy. Since the character needs to be supported by good life drain, debuffs and DOTs to operate. Having them all deployed with one key press avoids stressful fumbling with my bad hands, which means I feel more relaxed when playing.
It wastes a bit of mana since it means unnecessary recasts of the longer-lived effects, but nothing severe. If it becomes an issue I could also program the #19 key and have fewer things on the #18 key.
I edited these macros, but as usual the core thing is to click “record”, press the keys you want and click “stop recording”. They can also loop, but that’s not useful here.
2019 update – Synapse issues
The Tartarus performed well for more more than a year. However, in late 2019 I started experienced software issues. As far as I can tell :
- These are actually tied to Synapse, the Razer peripherals all-in-one solutions.
- Such issues apparently occur in older games that address the Razer Synapse SDK resources. In my case Warframe, but I’ve also seen Daybreak games having a FAQ about turning off the Razer SDK.
- In my case none of the fixes worked, and I’ve had to quit Warframe for a good while. The game still runs once my Tartarus is unplugged (say, to take screeenshots for writeups.org profiles). But the unwanted key strokes and crashes had been steadily getting worse, until it ended with a auto-crash-after-one-second situation.
- It is possible that my case was a specific conflict between Warframe, Razer Synapse and either Corsair iCue or VoiceAttack. Investigating would take far too much time.
Mind, if you already are using multiple Razer peripherals, you’re stuck with Synapse. So adding a Tartarus won’t change anything.
(Later edit – perhaps a hooks conflict with Reshade and/or Nvidia’s implementation of Reshade ? Or perhaps one of those cases where Windows shits the bed when managing non-trivial USB peripherals – the modern equivalent of an IRQ conflict.)
There are a number of obscure brand knock-offs that shiftily roam around on Amazon. I prefer to steer clear of those.
On the other hand, that leaves us — TMK — with but three serious alternatives :
- The Logitech G13. Some find it superior to the Tartarus. The issue is, you can only find one second-hand these days. And the prices can be high due to scarcity. I got one to replace my Tartarus (got real lucky on pricing) and it was fine, but this second-hand peripheral eventually broke. Like most gaming peripherals eventually do.
- There’s a HORI peripheral that was coming up in 2019, when I wrote this article. But it was called the Tactical Assault Commander F14 (seriously), and would only be available at a price and in limited quantities. The manufacturer seems reluctant to risk too much money on such a niche peripheral. As of this 2022 refresh of this article, it’s on Amazon but with zero stock.
- The Azeron. It’s what I now use. It appeared in late 2019, though most people could only buy one from 2020 onward. I got mine in 2021 and I’m still using it. And will likely upgrade to their newer model when I break the current one.
This article has a companion article of sorts. It’s about using voice commands in PC game, through free software and a light microphone. This too helps a lot of you can’t handle a bunch of keys and/or controllers.
Writeup completed on the 30th of April, 2018.